Leading with Jesus, by Pastor Noel

October 20 & 21, 2018    Proper 24, B


      I love the reading we just heard from Isaiah. It’s part of the “suffering servant” passages, and I’ve been singing “All we like sheep” for days!

      But Handel’s “Messiah” aside, why do we read this passage with today’s gospel? There is supposed to be a connection between the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospel, but I’m not seeing one.

      The reason I can’t see much of a connection is that the lectionary omits a few verses between last week’s gospel and today’s. Between last week’s gospel and today’s is this:

      On the road to Jerusalem Jesus tells the twelve, “The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

      Those words make perfect sense as a connection to Isaiah.

      What Isaiah says about the suffering servant is what Jesus predicts for himself.

      This is part of the third “teaching cycle” in the Gospel of Mark. Ched Myers writes that we have had the political vocation of the cross and also the social and economic community ethic.

      Now Jesus combines those two ideas as he teaches his disciples (and us) about leadership in God’s kingdom on earth.

      The disciples didn’t seem to understand the first teachings, and they still don’t get it!

      Jesus’ teachings have turned their ideas upside down. He has said that God’s kingdom does not favor the “rich and famous” but the poor and the hungry. Being innocent and childlike is more important that being an important big shot.

      Even though they probably all nod their heads when Jesus asks if they understand, it’s obvious that they don’t.

      And it’s not surprising, either. Even today.

      Even today we hold celebrities in awe and give them places of honor. This is what we should do for people whose life work has been to improve the lives of others.

      We can probably all name a dozen TV stars or pop singers. But can we name—do we even know about!—medical researchers or doctors who save lives every day. What about the engineers who make our cars safer for us?

      Who got the Nobel Peace Prize this year?

      (Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for work to end sexual violence and a weapon of war and armed conflict. Ironic and wonderful given the sexual agendas in our country.)

      James and John ask to have seats of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. They are still expecting him to sweep into Jerusalem and kick out the Romans and the Jewish leaders and sit on a throne to rule.

      Maybe we chuckle and wonder how they could be so dense. Maybe we say, “heck, yeah!” Jesus should do that! But he didn’t, and won’t.

      He does compare political leadership, as most of us know it, with leadership that is based on the values of God’s kingdom. Then he hopes we’ll understand and act accordingly.

      In God’s kingdom—here on earth—leadership is not about pushing people around. In God’s kingdom leadership is about being with people, empowering people to be their true selves.

      In the kingdom it is not “leadership by domination” but leadership by raising up and helping others.

      Jesus shows his sense of humor here when he says sarcastically to James and John, “But it is not so among you!”

      Obviously it IS that way among the disciples, at least with James and John! And in the Gospel of Matthew, their mother comes and asks Jesus to honor her sons this way. Earlier in Mark, when asked what they were talking about on the journey, the disciples were silent because they’d been talking about which of them was the greatest.

      Jesus rather sarcastic comment here says that even if it is the way, their way, it is not the right way.

      James and John ask to sit at Jesus right hand and left hand. All too soon there will be two others at his right and left hand as he hangs on the Cross. In the glory of his death.

      Jesus glory, not what the disciples envisioned. Dying to show the world that violence and tyranny are not the way of God’s kingdom.

      Jesus tells us that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Elsewhere he asks, “which is greater—the one at table or the one who serves?”

      We can feel as great as we want sitting at a table waiting to be served, but if there is no one to serve we have a long wait.

      Jesus said, “I come among you as one who serves.”

      In 1990 we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Diocese of RI.

      Many of the churches had folks marching in the 4th of July parade in Bristol. Bishop Hunt was offered an antique car to ride in the parade. His response? He said he would walk. “I come among you as one who rides in a Bentley? No thanks!”

      It’s fun being in the parade! It’s fun being on the stage with all the big wigs.

      And it’s much more satisfying and gratifying to be thanked for helping someone. Thanked for reaching out however we can to make someone else feel loved and cared for and appreciated.       

      We need folks to lead the parade and we need folks to march and we need folks to watch and cheer and support.

      In God’s kingdom all those folks are equal, all filled with God’s love, surrounded by Holy Spirit guidance, and walking with Jesus.

      We all march in the parade. I hope that we all step aside to reach out to that lonely or troubled person and share God’s love with them.

      We will all sit with Jesus at the heavenly banquet someday. Some of us on the right and some on the left. But it’s all the same because in God’s kingdom the table is round.

      No one is higher or lower at God’s table—we are all the same. And the table is big enough for all of us together.

      Let’s not wait for the heavenly banquet. Let’s make life a feast for everyone right now.






The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details